Sunderland academy star reveals why he didn't want to go out on loan
Sunderland academy sensation Dan Neil insists he wants to be part of the resurgence back through the leagues after sharing the pain of the fans in recent years.
Neil, 19, has made the transition from the terraces to the Black Cats’ first team seamlessly this season as he looks to help guide Lee Johnson’s side back to the Championship at the fourth time of asking.
The teenage midfielder may not have been involved in some of Sunderland’s more harrowing experiences of recent years – but as a boyhood fan of the club he wears the scars all the same.
But having been a fan, Neil is now a regular in the starting XI at the Stadium of Light and speaking to the club’s official podcast: ‘Unfiltered’ he discussed how he now feels responsible for Sunderland’s quest to climb back up the leagues.
“It’s definitely something I’d love to do [get Sunderland promoted],” he said.
“When we were in the Premier League and the Championship I was obviously far too young, but when I came in full-time as a 16-year-old and we were down in League One it’s always been on my mind to get into the first team as fast as I can – I want to be a part of the rebuild at this football club.
“[The club] was in the Premier League for years and to be in the stands as a fan and watch it fall, and fall rapidly, hurt.
“But now I’m in this position playing for the club week-in-week-out. I just want to be part of the rebuild phase and I want to get the club back to where it belongs.”
Neil made his full debut for the Black Cats on the opening weekend of the campaign after struggling to impress Johnson in his cameo appearances last season.
The midfielder by trade was deployed at left back by Johnson as a new look Sunderland triumphed over Wigan Athletic, with Neil more than holding his own.
And he admitted that performance may have gone some way to earning the trust back from his head coach.
“There were a few games [last season] I came on where I don’t think I did a few of the things tactically that he wanted off the ball.
“And that was the reason I didn’t want to go out on-loan because I really wanted to learn his style of football and I wanted to implement that into my game so that this season I was fully prepared to get into this team, because that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
“When I got picked to play left back the first game of the season I didn’t care. It was my debut. I’ll do anything to play – I’d have played in goal if he wanted me to.
“He knows I’m a midfielder, and knows I can do the job in midfield, but the fact I’ve had to go out of position on my debut in front of the first crowd I’ve ever played in front of, and to do the job well, I think was the thing that made him trust me.”
Neil has since been rewarded with a spot in his favoured midfield berth working in tandem with the likes of Luke O’Nien and summer signing Corry Evans as Sunderland have made their best start to a League One campaign since being relegated in 2018.
The youngster scored his first goal for the club in the success over Accrington Stanley at the Stadium of Light and has revealed he still sometimes has to pinch himself when he takes to the field of the place he would often come as a spectator.
“My whole journey through this academy has been top notch. I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it,” he said.
“[But] I always wondered what it would feel like in the build-up to the game when you’re standing in the tunnel and you can hear the roar, and you can hear the music, and the build of tension and anticipation.
“First game of the season I got to experience that. When we ran on the pitch and clapped the fans and stopped while the captain’s flipped the coin I was just looking round thinking ‘this is unbelievable.’
“When they sing Wise Men Say at the start of games, the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you just can’t help but look around – you almost forget that you’re playing.”
Despite being awestruck by the occasion, Neil has continued to impress in what he admits is a very positive environment at the club before also explaining how he continues to harbour hopes of a return to the England set-up.
But the main aim for Neil is to contribute towards the Black Cats finally getting over their League One hurdle and making it back to the Championship which would represent quite the journey for the local boy from Hebburn Town Boys Club.
“The gaffer came in halfway through last season and it was tough to implement his ideas and his culture because it was Saturday-Tuesday every week, whereas he’s had a full pre-season to get in players he wants and to get that blend of youth and experience he’s always wanted and I think the squad is in a good place.
“We’re picking up some good results but everything is positive around the club now.
“Coming into the season I didn’t have any targets it was just about playing as many games as I can and playing well, but now I’m playing most games I was looking at maybe six-to-eight goals and eight-to-ten assists.
“I’m just going to aim high and see what can happen. I would like to get back in the England set-up. I was in it when I was younger before I picked up an injury and I’ve never been close to it since, but I think this is my best chance to get back into it.”